In 2013, Beyoncé shifted the musical landscape with the surprise release of her visual, self-titled album. We received 14 songs, each with accompanying videos that gave a rare and personal insight into the now-confirmed Queen Bey, her relationship with her husband and what it now felt like for her to be a mother. Unashamedly about the power of the woman, it was openly sexual, and a celebration of sorts for the incredible relationship that she had with Jay-Z. However, there was one song that stood out: Jealous. And it is here that we pick up from with her latest album, LEMONADE.
“I’m just jealous/ I’m just human/ Don’t judge me”
Jealous shows a brief look into the insecurity that Beyoncé has about Jay-Z. She looks amazing, she’s a great wife, but Jay’s not there. Where could he be? The questions that started to pop up around this time were sent into to overdrive on that fateful night that would see Beyoncé’s sister, Solange, beat the shit out of Jay-Z in an elevator, only to emerge like nothing had happened- Beyoncé especially. The rumour mill went ballistic with suggestions of infidelity (and a list of possible side chicks), but nothing was confirmed – until now.
“You can taste the dishonesty/ It’s all over your breath”
The first lyrics we hear of LEMONADE paint a grim picture. Our worst fears have been confirmed, and you know what is about to come. Pray You Catch Me is a sombre opener with the help of James Blake, grand piano chords and stunning vocals from our leading lady- but she’s no longer celebrating. She’s broken. “I pray I catch you whispering/ Pray you catch me listening.” The anxiety, the unease she’s feeling because she knows something is going on. His smile hurts her the most. You can almost feel her presence frantically trying to get any kind of information that her suspicions were correct this whole time, yet the slow start that Pray You Catch Me gives to the album gives you the feeling she’s almost not ready to know. That is, until we hear Hold Up.
It’s interesting to watch the album, with its interludes and visuals, as it provides an entire storytelling experience. The music is interspersed with stunning scenes and Beyoncé reciting the poetry of Warsan Shire. Between Pray You Catch Me and Hold Up, we see a Bey writhing under water, slowly going through what she tried to change about herself. How she turned to religion to help her and it still didn’t work, she still had that burning question – “Are you cheating on me?” Whilst this makes you a bit uneasy, and you can feel the rising anger as she emerges, water gushing behind her for the Diplo produced, Hold Up. This is now Beyoncé not exactly accepting what has happened, but certainly acknowledging that the betrayal has indeed happened, with a tongue-in-cheek upbeat pop tune that is paired with a video of her going around smashing car windows and security cameras with a baseball bat. She stares into the camera as she asks presumably Jay-Z to ask himself would he be treating her like this is he wasn’t crowned the “god” that he is, and skips as she laments, “What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you.” Hell hath no fury like a Beyoncé scorned.
“Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can“
Don’t Hurt Yourself slowly creeps into a roar after one of the most eerie poems on the visual album is recited, about how if it’s what he really wants, Beyoncé can wear “her” skin as her own, essentially saying she is willing to become merge into one “perfect girl” for him, but you can feel the rage building. Teaming up with Jack White, Beyoncé offers up one of her most passionate songs in, well, ever for this one. It also serves as a special moment in the album where Beyoncé truly recognises her reality – she is literally. Beyoncé. And she’s been cheated on. WHO WOULD EVER CHEAT ON BEYONCÉ? She herself asks this question. She’s been made a living goddess by her cultlike fan base and the media. Her elusive attitude to the press only exacerbating this “untouchable” image even further, yet she’s not untouchable.
She, Beyoncé, can fall and be hurt just like the rest of us. She is, in fact human. And she’s fucking angry! “Who the fuck do you think I is? You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy” she screams. Don’t you know who she is? How could you do this to her of all people? Asserting her independence, she not only recognises her fallibility, but that she is just like the rest of the vulnerable, disrespected black women in America. She screams the hook, she is so angry this has happened. She’s no longer sad, she’s seeing red, and ends with a “final warning” that if he “tries this shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.” I don’t think there wasn’t anyone watching this particular video that didn’t reel back from just how incredible and intense this was.
“What are you going to say at my funeral, now that you’ve killed me?“
Apathetic Beyoncé is a dangerous Beyoncé, and we see that here in the next song, Sorry. Featuring a twerking Serena Williams, Beyoncé lounges in a throne-like chair, saying she’s anything but the song title. In fact, she now leans on her fellow sisters. This is a huge “fuck you” to the men who have hurt her and her friends. But, with it’s jolting beats and light synths, this song also provides one of – if not the – most talked about lyrics on the album, “He better call Becky with the good hair.” The internet at large currently believes “Becky” to be one Rachel Roy, but before your mind can wander too far into possibilities, we are given even more to think about. Touching on her religion and her sexuality in this interlude, she also touches again on her womanhood whilst we are presented with images of ceremonies – a sight we see throughout performed by women in Southern and African traditions.
“Am I talking about your husband, or your father?“
6 Inch, featuring The Weeknd, focuses on her work and ends in a dramatic fashion resulting in a burning mansion and Beyoncé and her crew standing in front of it. It also provides one of the most dramatic sonic juxtapositions on the album, leading into Daddy Lessons– a country song about what she learned (or didn’t learn) from her own father. Beyoncé’s relationship with her father is one that is problematic and fractious, and has been looked at before on many of Beyoncé’s songs. Looking at her father’s own infidelity, this journey into her past is perfectly paired with this old-time country music that would have been inescapable for a young Beyoncé. Singing in an antebellum-style dress but made with African textiles, this is where Beyoncé realises her past and uses it to her advantage to help her present. Realising she’s essentially married her father, it’s here that serves as a turning point in the story.
“You and me could stop this love drought“
An olive branch has been extended, but it’s not going to be easy. She sees he’s trying but she still doesn’t trust him, and she still catches him out in the lie. Love Drought is recognising this in-between part between the hurt, and the reconciliation that is now possible. She didn’t leave because she couldn’t, and now she’s willing to make it work. It’s important to note here that Beyoncé is deeply religious, so divorce is all but off the table for her. She also is no quitter, and is not one to lose. Ever. So before the judgement comes in of why she should or shouldn’t have stayed, this is Beyoncé we are talking about – she may be hurt but she recognises still that he is the love of her life, and that they’re still better together. The interlude here captures this next stage perfectly, as the story begins to come full circle – an effect that is quite literally employed here on her face in tribal face paint. It’s also really interesting to note here that the song, although titled Love Drought, is set on a river, signalling the literal and figurative drought is now over. The worst is behind them. “Baptise me now that reconciliation is possible. If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious,” she says, opening up the rest of the story for the healing to begin to take place.
The kinstukuroi bowl (a bowl that has been smashed and repaired with gold lacquer to be considered more beautiful than it was) is an especially powerful visual for this final part in LEMONADE, as the gospel chords open for Sandcastles. Detailing a huge kitchen fight involving smashed dishes, this clip sees Beyoncé reconciling with Jay-Z (he’s actually in the clip), in their home as she talks about how although she promised she couldn’t stay, “every promise don’t work out that way.” This is one of the most beautiful parts of the album, and one of the most intimate songs and videos Beyoncé has ever created. Owning their problems and opting to work on them together, they both now see they’re stronger together. Now, they move Forward.
Forward features James Blake again, and also sees the story pan out to include a bigger picture. Encompassing black women everywhere, Beyoncé recognises the internalised and systemic duress they’re under, purely out of their condition as humans. Race relations in America, with the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown featured, is an issue that Beyoncé has previously come under fire for seemingly ignoring. But now that she is able to deal with her marital problems (a feat which is by no means easy), she’s able to take on the plight of others. Of women, of African-American women specifically, and is prepared to not let go with putting the Black Lives Matter movement once again at the forefront of people’s minds – and televisions.
“Ima keep running ’cause a winner don’t quit on themselves“
The thunderous, bold chords of Freedom echoes out and shocks you out of the emotional hole you’ve just found yourself in. Whether you look at the bigger picture with these lyrics, or the smaller picture, it’s plain to see Beyoncé has undergone some sort of spiritual awakening after the pain she’s been in over the past few years. “I break chains all by myself,” she growls on the Kendrick Lamar featuring track. It’s a powerful song, and it commands your attention with its cacophony of drums, keys and a choir singing the hook.
“True love never has to hide”
All Night is it. Everything, although still difficult, is okay again. It’s once again a celebration of love, and a song that wraps itself in happiness. It’s devoted and unashamed once again, and although it’s been broken, it’s going to work. Her “love was stronger than your pride,” and forgiveness has finally, finally happened. Finishing with some home footage of a pregnant Beyoncé, a baby Blue Ivy and even a snap from their wedding, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have made it out the other side stronger than ever.
If Beyoncé is one thing, it’s fierce- her voice, her look, her love, her talent, her anger, her hurt. She’s one of the most influential women in the world, and recognises the power that brings, but it doesn’t make her immortal. It makes the fall that much harder, and the recovery that much longer. She rejects the deified status that has been put on her. Over the past three years, she totally cut the press out of her life, and now we know why. Clearly dealing with an actual life crisis, Beyoncé feels and hurts and cries like the rest of us. However, although many will be able to relate to this on a level, it would be remiss to not see it for what it is – an album for black girls, which is truly incredible. There is a lot going on here I could never hope to understand, and whilst I do worship at the church of Bey, I recognise that this album isn’t for me, and I’m happy to watch from the sidelines for this one.
In an age where singles are a flash in the pan and we’re onto the next big thing, she’s given us a full album experience because she can and because she’s got the story to tell. Teaming up with indie royalty like Jack White and James Blake, and even giving songwriting credits to Ezra Koenig, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Father John Misty as well as getting Diplo on for some production duties, she’s opening her world up to other influences because maybe she doesn’t have all the answers. Much like Rihanna‘s ANTI before her, Beyoncé’s come down to human level. She’s created her own reality in which she is able to share this with the world and she came out the other side (something many of us do not get through when it comes to infidelity for one reason or another), and has once again stopped the world. No one ever does it like Beyoncé does it, and that includes going through a marriage breakdown. Everything she does is a game changer, and LEMONADE is absolutely no exception.